There’s something going on with the conservative movement, and it doesn’t look good. Just days before the annual CPAC conference, its organizer, David Keene, stepped down as chairman of the American Conservative Union, a post he had held since 1984. Perhaps this reveals a schism in the conservative movement, between the old-school, libertarian, keep-government-out-of-my-way crowd and the authoritarian, put-government-into-your-bedroom types. Sarah Palin turned down CPAC’s offer to deliver their keynote address at the last minute, though her political action committee is sponsoring a reception there. And others such as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) wont attend due to the inclusion of gay groups.
At the eleventh hour, CPAC has a keynote speaker, and it is Rep. Allen West (R-Florida), the newly-elected black Tea Party member of Congress from Floridas 22nd Congressional district. The selection speaks volumes about where the conservative movement and the GOP have gone off the deep end, that is.
Some would call West crazy, perhaps even nuttier than your mamas pecan pie. And that’s not merely because he proudly sports a high-top fade in the second decade of the twenty-first century.
One of Sarah Palin’s pick for Congress, Rep. West is a member of the Tea Party Caucus, which is chaired by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minnesota). Bachmann, known for her outlandish, over-the-top statements, has accused President Obama of being “very anti-American”, and of setting up politically correct re-education camps for young people. In an odd pairing of affiliations, the Florida lawmaker is also the first black Republican to join the Congressional Black Caucus since 1996.
An Iraq war veteran with 21 years of military service and a Bronze Star, West was forced to retire with full benefits and a $5,000 fine in 2004 for reportedly beating and torturing Kadoori Hamoodi, an Iraqi policeman suspected of helping the insurgency. In August 2003, West simulated an execution by firing his pistol near Hamoodi’s head, an act which critics point to as evidence of a war crime. Hamoodi was never charged. Meanwhile, West became a hero to those who believed that abuse charges at the Abu Ghraib prison where U.S. military were charged and imprisoned for torturing and murdering Iraqi prisoners were overblown.
West has come under fire for his choice of chief of staff. Originally, the congressman chose Florida firebrand radio host Joyce Kaufman for the spot. Kaufman had advocated for the “hanging” of illegal immigrants, and said that if ballots don’t work, bullets will. Subsequently, West replaced Kaufman, blaming the media’s supposed sexism, racism and liberal bias for the criticism against his pick.
Black Republicans often seem to test the limits of how far they can go against the interests of the black community to curry favor with white conservatives. In that regard, the Florida lawmaker never disappoints. Wests rising star is due to his willingness to sink lower than few mainstream Republicans will dare to go.
Perhaps more than anyone else, African-Americans understand the painful reality of racial discrimination and intolerance in this country. Yet Rep. West has helped stoke the fires of Islamophobia in this country by making statements that denigrate Arab- and Muslim-Americans, question their patriotism and brand them as terrorists. He attacked his own colleague Rep. Keith Ellison, only one of two Muslims currently serving, as someone that represents “the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established.”
West also once compared Obama to Hitler# and called the president probably the “dumbest person walking around in America right now”. And last month on MSNBC, Rep. West told Last Word host Lawrence O’Donnell that Obama should put his life in harm’s way to show he is a true leader. “I’m sticking with my guns,” West told O’Donnell. “I’m not going to retract that statement, because I will tell you this if I was sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I would fly into a combat theater and I would get out there and visit those troops wherever they are. That’s just the type of leader that I am,” he added. For a black lawmaker to suggest that Americas first black president should risk being shot, given the assassination plots and death threats against him, is reprehensible.
But West not only shames black people when he utters such offensive statements. He also tarnishes the proud and honorable legacy of black Republicans. The last black Republican to serve in Congress from the state of Florida was Rep. Josiah Thomas Walls, who served between 1871 and 1876. Born a slave, Walls was forced to serve in the Confederate Army, was captured by the Union Army, and then volunteered for the Colored Troops Infantry Regiment, rising to the rank of First Sergeant.
Walls was Florida’s first elected African-American member of Congress. His election was challenged by a veteran Confederate general and former slave owner and he was unseated three times. In the House of Representatives he fought to strengthen the Civil Rights Act of 1866. He introduced a bill to establish a national education fund financed by public land sales, and sought funding to establish a state land-grant agricultural college. This was the Republican Party of Frederick Douglass, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, the Freedmen’s Bureau, and over 1,500 black elected officials during Reconstruction.
But today’s GOP is the party of the Tea Party movement, with a renewed Southern Strategy that includes promises of repealing the Fourteenth Amendment. They would like to return the country to the good old days that actually never existed for African-Americans. And, sadly, Allen West is their enthusiastic spokesperson.